Dinosaurs, A Dead Piano, and North Dakota

Seeing the Pryor Mountain mustangs was a transformative experience.  A transformation that will work on me for quite some time I think.

We got back to Lovell and had dinner at the Brandin' Iron before heading out. Both Traveler Thirteen and I had lasagna which was half way decent. The service was great and very friendly.

We had a three hour drive back to Livingston, Montana. I took the first leg driving up Route 310 toward Laurel, Montana. In the dark, the mine in Laurel looks like some sort of ship from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind or, perhaps, a set from Blade Runner. It was a surreal and disconcerting site after the raw animal beauty of the rest of the day.

The next morning I spent a nice hour birdwatching in Thirteen's front yard.

Mountain bluebird, female

Horned Lark

Thirteen had to work later that day so she dropped me off at the Museum of the Rockies (MOR), on the Montana State University campus. Now, the MOR had been on my must see list since I was 19 or 20. I LOVE dinosaurs. I'm that little kid that never grew out of their obsession with dinosaurs. I also have an obsession with geology and deep time (as in thinking about the almost incomprehensible spans of geological time and the forces that created not just the Earth but the universe).  I've read most of Jack Horner's books. He is the curator of paleontology. I met him many years ago. And, finally, I was here.

Big Mike, who stands outside the museum, was the first life-size bronze cast of a T. rex created in the world. The cast measures 38 feet in length, stands 15 feet tall and weighs 10,000 pounds.

The MOR houses the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in the U.S. It is one of the largest collections in the world. It also houses the largest T-Rex skull ever discovered. It also now features the seriously impressive "Montana's T-Rex", one of the most complete T-Rex skeleton's ever displayed.

At seeing this I was very tempted to recreate THAT scene in Jim Butcher's "Dead Beat" where wizard Harry Dresden does something I've always dreamed of. Read the book if you don't know what I'm talking about

I spent several wonderful hours learning more about the geological history of the Rocky Mountains and surrounding area. But even better, I spent hours with dinosaurs. There's an awesome T-rex skeleton. And, even better, there was one of my favorite dinosaurs deinonychus (a relative of the velociraptor). If I ever could go back in time it would be to the early Cretaceous Period to witness what these dinosaurs were really like.

Tinsely House

There's also a living history farm at MOR. In the Tinsley house someone was playing a piano and in the kitchen ladies were making butter. The garden is a thing of real beauty and interesting that its planted with flowers and vegetables true to those that would have been planted in the 1890s.

I had a very good late lunch at Sola Cafe, down the street from MOR. They have an iced tea and lemonade bar. I had a lot of fun mixing various teas and lemonade together. A little too much fun because the caffeine and sugar rush I gave myself had my head spinning for a while.

Mule deer bucks

I then met Thirteen at her work place and then we went and picked up Chena, Thirteen's dog, from the kennel. Chena was our faithful companion on our trip through New Mexico. Chena remembered me and greeted me by licking my elbow. We picked up pizza for dinner. We also saw a bunch of mule deer bucks showing off their antlers.

The Dead Piano.

And back at Thirteen's place we walked out to the back of the horse pasture (also checking on how Toby, Thirteen's horse, was doing). Out there was something fascinating. After a day of exploring the bones of the earth and the bones of long gone dinosaurs, I found myself staring at the decaying skeleton of a dead piano. There's a story there in the question of how did a stand up piano come to be abandoned way out in the middle of 20 acres of land. That piano is now quiet. But once it wasn't, once it was played, and whose fingers danced along its keys? What songs did it sing? And what offense did this piano give that lead it to be quite literally put out to pasture?

After sunset.

The next day, we took an early hike up the Dry Creek trail, a short distance from where Thirteen lives. Chena showed off her balance and agility skills by running down fallen logs. The hike served to reinforce the fact that the Paradise Valley of Montana is stunningly beautiful.

Looking down Paradise Valley 
Chena practically ran down this fallen tree. You can't see exactly how steep this was but her agility skills are pretty impressive.

Then we packed up the trailer and hit the road again, this time with Chena with us. Our destination was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I drove to Billings. Thirteen was busy editing photos in the passenger seat, which was kind of funny since she had to drape her jacket over her and the computer to block the sun to see what she was doing. We made a short stop at farm and horse supply place. And later we stopped at rest stop where Chena got a walk while I went and got lunch for us. As I returned  to were we were parked, Traveler Thirteen pulled out to come pick me up. We had a major obstacle to contend with. Someone else had parked their trailer near us and attached a ferocious bloodhound to it with a chain. The bloodhound seemed to object to Thirteen passing by. It lunged and missed biting the back bumper of our trailer by about four inches.

Driving across Montana. Montana does sky really well. We also killed a lot of bugs (splotches all over the windshield).

We drove some more and then some more. Montana is a big state. We stopped at Miles City to walk Chena. Miles City has character, like in an dog-eared book that has been left in a dusty corner of an old book store. It does have interesting bike racks made out of bits and branding irons. Also the grates around the trees lining the sidewalk feature historic brands.

Miles City

Bike rack made of bits and branding irons.


Then we drove some more. Sunset set the horizon afire just in time for us to reach the North Dakota State line where we celebrated Thirteen's visiting her 50th state, which is quite the accomplishment.

Sunset near the North Dakota border.

Then it was a dark, dark drive into Medora, North Dakota. We pulled into the Medora Campground around 8 pm. Fatigue and the dark had us driving in circles for a bit until we found the office and the directions to our camp site. The next day, we would go in search of the wild horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.